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International Business and Social Good: A Department of Education Dream Grant by Professor Michael D. Elmes, PhD

DEPARTMENT(S): 
December 16, 2021

In the summer of 2021, a beloved colleague and Professor Emeritus at WPI, Arthur Gerstenfeld, informed me that the U.S. Department of Education’s Business and International Education (BIE) program was about to be resurrected after an almost 10-year absence. This was the same BIE program to which Art had applied successfully in 2006 in his grant forging links between the U.S. business community and the continent of Africa. Part of the Higher Education Act of 1965, the BIE program authorizes grants to colleges and universities to establish and operate centers for international business education. These centers serve as “national resources for the teaching of international business, foreign languages, and international studies and provide research and training in the international aspects of trade and commerce” (The Higher Education Act: A Primer, 2021, p. 22). 

For two weeks after Art planted the seed for this grant, I mulled over whether to apply and, if I did, along which dimensions of international business and in which region of the world I would choose to focus. Inspired by the growing importance and emphasis on climate change mitigation and resilience programs, both internationally and at The Business School and Global School at WPI, I decided to focus on the role that business and industry in the U.S. could and should play in reducing carbon emissions and in helping communities and regions deal with the disruptions that climate change is causing. These include disruptions to infrastructure, health, electricity, water resources, agriculture, and ecosystems (Martinish and Crimmins, 2019) among others across the planet.  

I tried to think about a region of the world that could serve to inform the U.S. business community about climate resilience and where opportunities for commerce and trade with the U.S. might be possible. What came to mind was New Zealand and the surrounding Oceania region, an area of the world about which I am familiar and quite passionate. In 2005, I was a Fulbright Scholar to New Zealand, bringing my family and spending 6 months. I taught an undergraduate honors course on organizational change and collaborated with New Zealand researchers on how constructions of nature in New Zealand informed stakeholder attitudes about genetic engineering development and testing – a highly charged issue in the country.  Five years later, Professor Ingrid Shockey of the Global School and I founded the Wellington New Zealand project center where, since 2013, we have run over 50 projects involving more than 250 students. The 2021-22 academic year marks the 10th year of the center where we have built a rich set of relationships among regional and national government agencies, museums and NGOs, research institutes, and the business community. Of particular relevance have been our projects with leaders in the Māori community, which, as indigenous partners with a focus on place and future generations, are playing an essential role in the dialogue and activity surrounding climate resilience and decarbonization in New Zealand. 

My familiarity with the region was not the only reason I chose to focus the grant on New Zealand and the Oceania. Other reasons include the hard reality that climate change and sea level rise are already having profound consequences for communities and livelihoods in the region, and leaders in the private and public sectors are increasingly motivated to address it. Under New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden, for example, the country is committed to carbon neutrality by 2050 and to 100% renewable energy by 2035. Also, the business community in New Zealand is becoming increasingly active in collaborating with key government agencies to reduce carbon emissions and build climate resilience. For example, in legislation that’s the first of its kind in the world, banks, investment firms and insurance companies in New Zealand are now required to report the impacts their investments have on climate change. The Aotearoa Circle is a partnership of public and private sector leaders in pursuit of sustainable prosperity and shared responsibility for the long-term investment in (the country’s) natural resources. In addition, one of the foci of the country’s National Science Challenge is resilience which includes research on mitigating coastal erosion, flood, wildfires, earthquakes, and other hazards often associated with climate change. 

In identifying local business partners in the Worcester and Greater New England business community, I was delighted to get strong support from CEO Tim Murray of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce who saw the value of this grant for both the Worcester community and the greater New England region. In addition, the Higher Education Consortium of Central Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investment, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts have agreed to promote our offerings and programs. At WPI, Deans Debora Jackson (The Business School) and Mimi Sheller (The Global School) have graciously agreed to sit on the Board of Advisors for the grant, as other faculty and staff have generously provided in-kind support for this project. 

The grant is entitled, Preparing New England Students, Faculty, and Business Professionals for Climate Resilience Enterprise Opportunities (CREO) in New Zealand and the Oceania Region. It was accepted in September 2021, launched on October 1, and will run until September 30, 2023. The first objective of the grant will focus on global business, culture, and language education for students. The emphasis will be on developing CREO-related student projects at the Wellington Project Center, offering Maori language/culture preparedness for students, and developing and teaching CREO modules to WPI undergraduates and graduate business students at WPI.  The second objective will focus on faculty development in international business and culture. This will include making CREO-related presentations to WPI faculty in all disciplines, familiarizing WPI project advisors advising in New Zealand with CREO, and developing a CREO-related website for faculty at WPI and universities across the New England region. Finally, the third objective will emphasize global business development for regional business professionals. This dimension of the grant will offer an annual workshop to regional business leaders and executives interested in the topic and provide periodic guest speakers on CREO over Zoom. A CREO-related website for business leaders and executives will also be developed. 

Right now, I am in the early stages of setting up the grant and am making good progress. I hope that friends and alumni of The Business School at WPI will think about participating in some of the programs we will be offering. Hopefully, they will be relevant to your own organizations and enterprises and will contribute both to building trade with that region of the world and addressing the challenges of climate change and resilience globally.